Fans of televised MotoGP and Supercross, take notice: Motorcycle racing hasn’t always been accessible for TV broadcasting like it is today. Once upon a time, back in the 20th Century, very few motorcycle race events were broadcast on national TV. Then one day the ABC television network discovered the United States Grand Prix of motocross, held annually at Carlsbad Raceway; once a year race fans across America were treated to watching the small screen when the USGP aired on ABC’s weekly Wide World of Sports program. And life was good — for one viewing day a year, that is.
Then, in 1982 ABC created its own motorcycle race, patterned specifically for TV. That event was the Superbikers, the brainchild of Trippe-Cox and Associates, who also had helped bring motorcycle racing to Laguna Seca Raceway in 1972. T-C had also created an event known as the Olympiad of Motorcycling in 1977, which actually set the premise for what became Superbikers. The Olympiad lasted only a couple years, before Gavin Trippe presented the idea for ABC’s Superbikers, a motorcycle race that, they felt, would be suitable for ABC’s production and film crews to broadcast nationally.
Trippe’s plan was simple: Invite top racers from the three major forms of motorcycle competition — road racing, flat tracking and motocross — to compete against each other on a single course that integrated all three forms of racing. Rules were tailored to minimize the chance of any one rider dominating the day; everybody used 19-inch Carlisle flat track tires, and qualifying heats were limited to riders competing against others in their specialized field. That is, motocrossers raced other MXers, and so on in three qualifying heats; the top three finishers from each heat transferred to the Main. A wild card heat was tossed in for riders who failed to transfer, with the top three from that last-gasp effort advancing to the Main that featured 12 racers in all.
Like the USGP of motocross, the race was held at Carlsbad Raceway, incorporating portions of the motocross track that included a high-speed sweeper and TT jump for the flat track section. The racers eventually returned to the pavement (road race) to complete a lap. Doing so tested each rider’s specialty.
Because the program was filmed rather than broadcast live, the TV production crew could tailor and edit the event into a viable segment that told the story in an economical and timely manner, allowing for back stories and interviews of the various riders, too. Among those in the field were Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey (road race), Jeff Ward and Kent Howerton (MX) Bubba Shobert and Ricky Graham (flat track), and so on.
The racing was close and competitive, plus the Superbikers showed the riders’ versatility. Perhaps the racer to benefit most from the “audition” was Steve Wise, who later migrated from American Honda’s motocross team to its vaunted road race team.
Eventually, though, program viewer numbers began to decline. Supercross was gaining inroads among enthusiasts during the ’80s, prompting Superbikers officials to incorporate more SX-like features on the race course. Eventually interest among non-SX racers began to wane, until Superbikers became just another footnote in moto-history. Even so, it paved the way for televised MotoGP, Supercross and other forms of powersport competition popular today.